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Family time. It’s some of the most rewarding times we get. Yes, a job with great perks is good, but have you ever told a joke that made your otherwise-sullen teenager snort-laugh against their best efforts not to?
The thing is though, it is easy to get tired, and forget to put a priority on spending the moments together.
Not everyone can deal with spontaneous activities. (I personally can only be spontaneous if I have a solid week to plan for it in advance. I plan planning my plans. Drives my husband nuts!)
However, you can carefully put together moments. While it’s true that sometimes the best fun you’ll ever have will have been spur of the moment, it’s difficult to fit that in sometimes. Families get busier as they grow. More clubs, parent-teacher meetings, homework, more housework, jobs, extracurriculars, friends, even doing the groceries can take longer.
This leaves many of us tired. (Okay, tired is an understatement. Exhausted to the very core is probably more accurate.)
So, to help other moms who feel too weary to come up with something fun and spontaneous, try these easy tips for some low-effort, high-reward family bonding time.
Of course, there would be food somewhere here. (This is me, after all.) However, rather than calling for takeout, try putting together a low effort taco night. The kids can get involved by chopping tomatoes, washing salad, and maybe giving the chicken a stir (or veggies if you’re meat-free).
Letting the kids loose on putting their own taco together might seem like a mess waiting to happen, but really it relieves the pressure of dinner time arguments. It also encourages them to ask each other or you to pass bowls and toppings...what? Actual conversation from my children? Shock! Awe! (And you might be surprised how many veggies they manage to consume too).
Of course, it doesn’t have to be Tacos or Tuesday, but if you have a dedicated night a week or in a month, for a DIY style family dinner, then you will always have something to look forward to.
Something that can impact a lot of families is just not having the spare cash to spend on days out.
Fortunately, most of us have a perfectly good (if a little overgrown) garden, backyard, or other outdoor space at home just waiting to be an adventure playground.
A backyard is a perfect space for treasure hunts, drawing chalk figures on the wall, painting, or having a late evening meal. If your yard needs a little bit of attention, it might be worth saving up and considering patios or conservatories.
In the meantime put together a treasure hunt list of insects, plants, birds and maybe throw in a bear or two. (Yes, you can volunteer some stuffed animal bears for the job. I’m not advocating actual bear-to-toddler interaction, as that rarely ends well.)
While it might not be the same as heading out to a big nature reserve or the local gardens, it can be really relaxing. Bring a book, some sunglasses, and kick off your flip flops. Let the kid’s imaginations run wild and indulge in the fact that you’re all doing things you enjoy together.
There is a theme here for simple things. Chaotic, complicated plans are usually more stress than reward.
As far as simple plans go, the movie night should never be underestimated. Bring down blankets and extra pillows, everyone in fresh PJ’s or their favorite loungewear. Teddy bears are of course invited to this one as well.
Let the kids help you pop the popcorn or pick some of the snacks you will be indulging in.
If you introduce the Disney classics and other family favorites early on, you can even get your kiddos addicted to some of the ones you loved as a child. I will never be upset when my toddler wants to rewatch Mulan for the ninetieth time because it was basically my childhood. Make a list of the movie you loved as a child and see if they are available on any streaming service that you have.
You might even be able to pick them up on DVD for a few dollars now too.
Ditch the car keys.
If you have a local shop, then all get your boots on with the intention of nothing more than a slow stroll to the shop. You might be surprised how relaxing it is when you don’t need to rush to get things.
Inevitably one kid will be walking super slowly and maybe another will be talking a mile a minute, but when you don’t actually have an agenda and strict set of plans, it literally doesn’t matter if you walk in circles at a snail’s pace...the point is to have fun, not accomplish a set list.
Also, walking is excellent exercise for you and getting out will make bedtime that much easier, so this is two birds with one stone!
No, I don’t mean just for you so you can last until dinner without exploding. (Though come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea…)
This one will probably take a few attempts to get into the routine, but don’t worry it’s super relaxing once the kiddos learn the ropes. Also, teaching your kids to calm down, take a breath, and be focused inward has countless positive consequences, from better focus in school to improved self-awareness and discipline.
Here are a couple of apps to help you with some guided meditation for kids, of course, you should join in too - use the sessions for a few minutes peace and quiet.
Calm - has a range of sleep stories for adults and kids, has some short guided meditation for kids too, plus a selection of relaxing music
Dreamy Kids - meditation app, with visualizations and affirmations as well as meditate. All of which is guided to help you out.
Breath, Think, Do Sesame - Helps kiddos 2-5 with things like problem-solving, relaxing and self-control.
Super Stretch Yoga - A little more physical than the others, but some kids work better with a combination of yoga and breathing exercises.
Meditating with your children will actually help them settle into a nice routine of mindfulness and impact other areas too.
Because of the rush of everyday life, we are sometimes left feeling like we are failing in more than one area, and the guilt of not being with the kids can often weigh really heavily on our shoulders. So to compensate we try and spend extra cash when really, the best thing you can do to be closer is to spend time, not money.
A while ago there was a shakeup in how we can get our kids to tell us more about their days.
It used to be the most you might get out of them was that they forgot what they did. But, if you change the narrative of the conversation, you might just find you get a little more from them.
I know my teenager takes a sadistic pride in giving me one-word answers when I ask her how her day at school was. Now I take maternal pride in circumventing this little game with questions that cannot be answered with one word.
Rather than the easily avoidable “how was your day?”, try asking them some of these:
Who were you kind to today? Who was kind to you?
What was the most exciting thing you heard today?
Which classes were most/least _______? (Insert adjective here. Boring, funny, crazy, unusual, etc.)
What did you eat? How was playtime/recess/lunch/gym?
Did any of your friends do/say anything funny today?
What was the weirdest outfit you saw today?
You’ll still be gathering information about their day, but you’ll be doing it in a way that shows your actual interest and invites actual conversation.
When I say "game night", please sweep the images of being forced to play gin rummy with your elderly grandmother out of your head.
The great part about family game night is there are games to fit the ages, interests, and predispositions of your specific family.
Have really active kids? Physical games like beanbag toss, Twister, Bounce It, darts, or even toy swordfights can be a great way to get out some of that pent-up energy.
Kids having trouble in school? There are billions of board games that subtly reinforce things like counting, math skills, logic, reading, and other academic skills in a fun and totally non-school way. Our family favorites here are things like Rat a Tat Cat, Uno, Sequence, and even Monopoly (counting spaces, financial strategy, etc.).
Kids into a specific thing? They have Harry Potter themed clue, Monopoly, and even cards against humanity. I know for a fact there are TV show themed board games for many popular shows. (We have the Modern Family trivia game and play it regularly.) Find a game that relates to your kids' specific interests for even more excitement.
Best of all, all of these activities involve no screens. Everyone is engaged, involved, and (most likely) actually enjoying each others' company for a change.
Given my aforementioned inability to be spontaneous, I also wanted to share with you my heavily-researched guide to some quality activities you can do specifically with toddlers.
I might get around to doing one of these for other ages of children, but seeing as I currently have a toddlernado, this one was borne out of great personal necessity.
It’s basically a free, printable stockpile of literally hundreds of different activities you can do with a toddler. Bonus, they’re all possible to do indoors, so you don’t have to worry about your plans being ruined by a rainy day (or a freak polar vortex).
Check it out if you ever feel lacklustre on the creativity front, and let me know in the comments if you have any fun activities I missed!
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
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